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Founders of high scoring San Fernando Valley charter school charged with theft of $200,000

June 11, 2010 |  1:13 pm

The founders of one of the region’s highest-performing schools face charges of embezzling public funds and other crimes in connection with the alleged theft of more than $200,000.

Eugene Selivanov, 38, and his wife, Tatyana Berkovich, 32, opened Ivy Academia in 2004, and from its inception, the west San Fernando Valley school has posted high scores on state tests. The charter school also has a history of disputes with its authorizing agency, the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The current charges arise in large part, from a critical audit by the school system’s inspector general as well as from the complaints of residents who live near the school, parents of former students and former employees. The independently run but public school also has many passionate defenders among parents, teachers and community members.

Prosecutors filed a 38-count complaint Thursday, alleging the embezzlement of public funds, money laundering, misappropriation of public funds, loaning or profiting from public funds, knowingly keeping a false account and willfully filing a false state tax return. The complaint, which alleges wrongdoing between 2004 and 2009, also includes misdemeanor counts for filing a false tax return, failure to file a statement of economic interest and conflict of interest.

Through their attorney and a spokesperson, Selivanov and Berkovich have denied any wrongdoing. 

“Eugene and Tatyana are educators and innovators, not criminals,” said attorney Janet I. Levine, in a statement. “They devote themselves tirelessly to Ivy, their students, families, faculty and community, dedicated to their mission of providing the best education possible. Their vision and hard work is demonstrated by the students’ high test scores and many awards, and by the students’ commitment and dedicated service to the entire community.”

Much of the criminal case arises out of the commingling of funds in the early years of the school among the charter and other entities operated by the couple. They have insisted that no money was ever misused and pledged to improve their bookkeeping practices in the wake of the district audit, which was released in early 2007.

Selivanov and Berkovich were expected to appear for arraignment Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court downtown.

If convicted as charged, Selivanov faces as many as 14 years and two months in state prison, according to the district attorney’s office. His wife faces a possible maximum nine-year sentence.

-- Howard Blume